Friday, November 11, 2016

It's "Fall In Love With Wine." The Saltbox Café's Latest Six-Course Wine-Paired Dinner.

Our theme tonight is Fall In Love With Wine."
I already have,
but I will again,
because I'm fickle that way.
A Fickle Fermented Floozy.
Welcome to The Saltbox Café's, November 3, 2016 and November 10, 2016, "Fall In Love With Wine" dinner.
The menu is the creation of Chefs Amanda and Randolph Sprinkle.
Our servers are April and Mike.
The wines are presented by Kerry and Cindy of Tryon Distributors.
Being the self-appointed backstage photographer of these events (I can be very persuasive.  And intrusive.), I've insinuated myself into the kitchen  - the magic stage - where everything is produced.
Sometimes I just have to push Chefs Amanda and Randolph or April and Mike out of the way, so I can get the pictures.

As for the wines tonight, Tryon Distributing has a little bit of everything for us - Italian, French,  Californian, and Argentinian. As always, we are advised to try a bit of the wine by itself, and then with the food so we can appreciate the marriage of viticulture and agriculture.

Our first course:
 I love to watch the plating process. 
Step by step.
And I get hungrier and hungrier with each pass.

Ready to roll.

Our first course is clams and chorizo sausage in white wine and butter sauce over crostini to sop up the saucy goodness, paired with La Scolca Gavi of Piedmont, Italy.  

Kerry:  Our first wine celebrating the fall harvest is produced by La Scolca Winery, established around 1919 in the Piedmont region in northern Italy.  This is a legendary winery in the town of Gavi, known as the pioneer of this wine, which is the expression of the Cortese grape.  A lot of vintners had given up on this grape and it wasn't until after  World War II that the Soldati family saved this particular grapevine from oblivion by focusing on the production of quality white Cortese in a region traditionally known for its reds.

From Scolca's website:  "Today, the estate is run by Giorgio Soldati, the founder’s great-grandson, and his daughter, Chiara, who represents the fifth generation."

I don't know about you, but I love seeing nepotism at work!

One reason why this legendary winery has done so well is the vineyard site itself.  Located 30 miles from the Mediterranean, the vineyards experience marine air balancing the cool mountain air and all-day sunlight.  The vineyards are planted on steep slopes made of calcereous clay, volcanic soils with iron, and veins of limestone - very similar to that found in Champagne and Chablis in France.  This wine has a flinty character with great lemon zest and acidity, and is a delightful food white wine.

Chef Randolph: When we tasted this wine, it screamed to be served with shellfish.  That minerality and lemon quality should pair really well with clams and a little spicy chorizo to add body to the dish.  Clams, garlic white wine sauce, and piece of bread underneath.  Enjoy!

Rosie's Wine Notes:  Well, what with all the calcium and iron and limestone, this wine had "strong shoulders."  I read that in a description.  Not only was I impressed with its "strong shoulders," but this wine was massively endowed.  I would call it bosomy.  Yes, that's the word. This wine strode in, cleavage-forward - a hint of voluptuous, rapturous things to come.  Exquisite. I remember when my nephew was little and was watching Wonder Woman, he would remark, "Wonder Woman has strong bosoms."  This Scolca from Gavi definitely had strong bosoms. 

Usually, I find clams to be on the tough side;
however these were tender little bivalves which I relished with gusto.
As always, give me something to sop up the juices and sauces and goody bits. 
That piece of bread did the trick.

I liked the little micro-greenery left by its lonesome.

Goodbye, last dish of first course.  Sniffsniff.

On to Course 2:
Our second course is a smoked salmon cheesecake with tart tomato and caramelized onion jam paired with Hecht & Bannier Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc, France.

Kerry:  This is a dynamic white wine produced by Hecht and Bannier in the southern Languedoc region in between Nice and Spain, along the Mediterranean coast. It's a beautiful white blend of Piquepoul Blanc, Rousanne, and Grenache Blanc.

I found this in my resear Googling about Hecht and Bannier, which I deemed worthy of going to the trouble of copying and pasting:

Among all our wine, none is a single grape wine, except the Maury, only made of the Grenache Noir; as each one of our Crus is a blend of several plots within the appellation and the result of the work of several vine growers and domaines. Working on these terroirs, it is our conviction that this blending approach is the only way to achieve a more aromatic complexity and to give birth to wines with a wider evolution of flavors.

 Kerry explained that Hecht & Bannier's whole idea being to provide great fruit expression in wines that are representative of the area - very simple, clean, medium body wines.  Kerry further described that these varietals are all grown right along a lagoon system similar to the small sounds along the Mediterranean coast of France with the vineyards overlooking the sound area.  Lots of maritime influences affect this area, allowing for late-ripening in September and October.

Chef Randolph:  Randolph was explaining his thought process into getting to quiche for this course and I couldn't hear what he was saying.  I do recall hearing his speaking about they were thinking of Nova Scotia, then something about cold and blustery, all of which would lead to ... ??? did he say something about a chowder???  I don't know.  But suddenly it turned into smoked salmon cheesecake so I was down with that.

Rosie's Interjection Here And Let It Be A Lesson For You All:
I like to eat most anything.  There are few things I do not like to eat.  BUT, whenever there is food product that doesn't immediately please my palate, then that offers a challenge to me.  And Rosie loves a challenge.  I will do my darndest to like that food.  I will start thinking about how to put it together with whatever and however its presentations and I'll try this and that and then, one day, that very special day, my efforts will have paid off and I finally  GET IT, and all that trying and attitude and yes, the challenge, have worked together and I LIKE IT!  I REALLY REALLY LIKE IT!

This happened to me with salmon.  Sometimes you have to take small, baby steps.  I started off with the smoked salmon in the packets -  Salmolux.  Here's what you do:  Take a triscuit and spread on some softened cream cheese.  Nestle a thin slice of cucumber in the cream cheese, then fold a little strip of Salmolux and tuck it on top of the cuke slice.  Sprinkle on some chopped red onion, maybe some minced green, yellow, orange, and red peppers, if you like and a few balls of capers, if you're feeling capricious.  Top with a sprigs of fresh dill.  And you have quite the amuse bouche!

 Now, back to our scheduled dinner.

Chef Randolph is serving smoked salmon cheesecake finished with a roasted tomato chutney - small grape tomatoes roasted at a high temperature then cooked down with vinegar, sugar, and caramelized onions.  "Notice the dots of orange on the plate.  That's salmon roe."

My italics.  That right there is the part I didn't hear.

Rosie's Wine Notes: 
You remember the scene in Big when Tom Hanks first tasted caviar and had to wipe his mouth out with a napkin?  Well, this Hecht and Bannier white was even better than a napkin!  Took right care of that salmon roe.  Big swig, swish, and swill, down the hatch, and what a marriage of wine and eggs!

The crust was unique and I had to ask Chef Randolph what it was.
And he told me!
Man, you can put those things in anything and they're good!
Creamy, lovely-textured cheesecake with delicate salmon flavor
and a little greenery to lighten it up and balance with the acidity of the vinaigrette.

Note to self:  Self, in the future, be sure to check for any small "orange dots" on your plate.
This is just a personal preference and nothing in any way meant for other diners to avoid.

Moving on to Course 3:
Course 3:  Scallop and crab cake over roasted cauliflower and Chèvre purée with roasted beets and fennel paired with Treana Chardonnay, California.

Kerry:  We've been stepping up the weight of each wine so far.  This is a white wine, from California, specifically the central coast, a large designation running from just south of San Francisco to Santa Barbara which encompasses many other approved appellations.  This wine is by Hope Treana Winery, extending from Monterey in the north to Santa Barbara in the south.  This is 100% Chardonnay, the most widely planted grape varietal in the world and one of the oldest as well, originating in Burgandy, France.  The reasons it's one of the most widely planted grapes is that the Chardonnay is extremely versatile, easy to grow, it's adaptive to different climates, and it can be produced in many different ways depending on where it's growing climate-wise and who's working with it in the winery.  You'll notice apple, peach, subtle creme brulée, vanilla, and a balance of citrus.  This is a great example of California Chardonnay.

Chef Randolph:  This next course has a lot of different elements and they all needed to be about this wine.  It's a complex wine - there's oak and acidity.  This broke down into a lot of different flavors.  The main component is the scallop and crab meat, then there's a purée of cauliflower with Chèvre cheese, there's a little salad on top, and roasted beets and fennel for the earthiness.  Oh, as an afterthought, Chef Randolph mentioned there was a "little bit of vinaigrette on there and truffle oil."  At least that's what I wrote in my impeccable notes.

 Rosie's Wine Notes:    This leggiadrous wine walked in with confidence, pregnant with possibilities.  It was too late and we both knew it.  We tumbled down the laundry chute of lust, lasciviousness, and labidinousness.  We awoke in the wee hours of the morning, feeling cheapened and wrinkled, like a slept-in suit in a cardbordeauxbox.  We couldn't look each other in the eyes.  Our outstretched fingertips, like wine legs down the glass, glacially millimetered away from each other.  The moment was over.  We left, never crossing paths again.

I think this was Mr. Hawthorne's favorite.  He loves crab meat and appreciates the delicacy of the crab and how it is not really handled and that "less is more."  The fact that this had beets, which he loves, and FENNEL - his "new" vegetable he's trying out was intriguing to Mr. Hawthorne. 

Like I am with the salmon, Mr. Hawthorne is trying to work his way through certain flavors -  anise and fennel being one, or at least cousins.  Hey, we try.
Love the behind-the-scene action.

On to course #4:
Course 4:  Seared duck breast with pickled blackberries, vanilla pear purée and sweet potato hay paired with Morgan Monterey Côtes du Crow's, California.
Kerry:  Morgan Winery is in the highlands in the central coast of California.  The Côtes du Crow, a play on Côtes du Rhône, is a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Grenache.  The area is diverse in microclimates with the valleys drawing off the Pacific.  The fog burns off in the morning, the sunshine warms the vineyards during the day, and cooling winds from the Monterey Bay come in the afternoon.

According to Morgan's website:  "Coffee cake, dates, and raspberry aromas jump out of the glass."

Kerry didn't happen to mention this particular part but he did tell us to "notice the outstanding raspberry, black cherry, pomegranate, and cranberry." 

This wine was aged in French oak barrels for 6 months or so which gives the wine "subtle spice and vanilla characters without overpowering the elegant fruit profile."

Chef Randolph:  We have roasted duck breast over Bosc pear purée flavored with rosemary and vanilla bean.  Pickled blackberries are on the outside and sweet potato hay on top.

Rosie's Wine Notes:  Let me be the first to say that no coffee cake, dates, or raspberries jumped out of my glass.  The smell of sour grapes lingered long after the seductive sweetness of dark fruits dissipated into a roll in the hay lo those many years ago en été en Provence and turned into a morass of merde.  My first love. Thankfully forgotten.

That April keeps getting in my way!

Pear purée. blackberries, duck breast, and sweet 'taters.
What's not to love?

On to course #5:

Course 5:  House-smoked beef short ribs over autumn vegetable hash and apple chiotle demi paired with Tikal Patriota, Mendoza Argentena.

Kerry:  Our second red of the evening is from Mendoza, South America and is a blend produced by Tikal Winery.  It is 60% Malbec and 40% Bonarda.  Aged in oak, it is robust, concentrated, and deeper and darker than the previous red.  There's a bit of cocoa, dark fruit, and it's not over tannic.

 Ernest Catena is the owner of Tikal Winery and he has a passion not only for wine, but for a lot else.  He's not only a vintner, but a "skilled horseman, fashion designer, software developer, book editor" along with being a "tireless and avid reader, painter, art collector, polo player, and archer,"
Catena felt the need to "produce wines that would reflect his basic beliefs: high quality, a different style from the majority of wines being made at the time, smaller volumes and a strong brand concept.

 It is a style meant to provide enormous pleasure rather than provoke contemplation; an expression of emotion rather than intellect. He has named his wines with passion in mind: Patriota (Patriot), Amorio (Love Affair), Jubilo (Rejoice)."

I don't know about you, but I love seeing hedonism at work!

 Chef Randolph:  We have the quintessential autumn dish - braised beef short ribs, first slow-smoked for 2 1/2 hours, then braised.  The braising liquid was reduced with apples and chipotle peppers and served on a bed of harvest vegetables - parsnips, carrots, and potatoes.

Rosie's Wine Notes:  This soulful wine is often misunderstood but my empathic intuition immediately picked up on this.  We were sympatico.  I miss him already.  I yearned for the accoutrements of autumn - a roaring fire and psithurism.

This is homey.
This is fall.
Only one thing missing is a roaring fireplace.

A happy chef produces happy meals!

And Chef Randolph has quite the colorful derrière!

Now, we're on to our 6th and final course - dessert.
"OH, April...  You wanna get your butt over here?  NOW?"

"You talking to ME???"

Course 6:  Dark chocolate hazelnut mousse cake with ganache, vanilla ice cream, and a cranberry reduction paired with Hecht and Bannier Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge.
Kerry:  This is our second wine from Hecht and Bannier and it's their Red Languedoc.  The first wine from them was a white with our second course.  This red is a blend of Syrah from the Terraces du Larzac and Chinian and Grenache from Roussillon and it is completely aged in cement tanks.  Cement tanks are similar to stainless steel tanks in that the main idea is not to impart any additional character to the wine.

Chef Randolph:  Chef Amanda wanted to pair this red with a dark chocolate.  We have a dark chocolate cake with hazelnut ganache with chocolate mousse on top, finished with a cranberry syrup reduction and ice cream.  And there are some hazelnuts thrown in too.

Rosie's Wine Notes:  I immediately noticed the callipygian assets of this ostrobogulous wine
Since I, too, am callipygian enhanced, I could appreciate the effort made here.
This was just plain decadent.
I loved every bite.

I wanted to lick the plate.
If that's wrong, I don't want to be right.

Once again I have to jockey April for position.

Isaac is part of the wonderful Saltbox Crew.

Enjoy the rest of the pictures.

Chef Randolph surveys his domain.

Here are our wines from tonight.

And here's my FAVORITE picture from tonight!
I could caption this, but I won't. 
You be free to go ahead and do it.

For a recap of our wonderful on-going dining experiences at The Saltbox Café
please click on the links:

October 2014, we visited Spain.
November 2014, we visited Argentina.
December 2014, we visited Paris.
February 2015, we visited Chocolate. (Why yes, Chocolate is a country.)
March 2015, we visited Italy.
October 2015, we visited Germany.
December 2015, we visited Japan.
Also in December 2015, we enjoyed a Réveillon Feast.
And again in December 2015, we visited France.
February 2016, we took a road trip to California.
Also in February 2016, we visited Italy
March 9, 2016, we had a lovely visit to Chile.
March 29, 2016, we visited the Pacific Northwest.
April 20, 2016, we explored the vineyards of Oregon
September 2016, we enjoyed South Africa
October 2016, we experienced Madrid
October 2016, we traveled the Loire Region in France.

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